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Jedna mapa govori vise od rijeci


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What is the origin of the word for "forty" (sorok) in East Slavic languages?

Eugene Kuznetsov, Native Russian speaker
Updated 4 years ago · Author has 2.6K answers and 5.3M answer views

For me the most credible etymology is from Turkic “kyryk” / “kirik”/”kirk” , which, strictly speaking, means “forty”, but may also have meant “lots”. Hence “centipede”, which is rendered as “hundred-legs” in most European and many Slavic languages, is “kirkayak” or “kyrykayak” (“forty-legs”) in Turkish, Kazakh, and Tatar, and “sorokonozhka” (also “forty-legs”) in Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian. There’s an old Russian idiom “sorok sorokov” meaning “lots and lots”, Turkish “kirk yulda bir” “once in a blue moon” and “kirkambar” (literally, “forty-store”) “general goods store”. It may have been a loanshift (a preexisting word adopting a new meaning) rather than a full borrowing.

It would have been borrowed from the Kipchak language, which is now dead but Kazakh and Tatar are its direct descendants.

Two other commonly cited etymologies link it either to Greek “tessarakonta” (“forty”) or to Old Norse “serk[r]” (allegedly “two hundred fur skins”). Neither one seems probable. First of all, there’s the time element. I could see a borrowing from either Greek or Old Norse in the 10th or 12th century. But it does not seem to have happened much earlier than the 15th, by which time Russians were not in close contact with either. In addition, “sorok” does not appear in either Church Slavonic or Bulgarian, which would be very odd if it were of Greek origin.

As to why the word was adopted in the first place, the original old Russian 40 (still in use in e.g. Bulgarian) is ‘chetiredesyat’, which is a mouthful (five syllables). Among other multiples of ten, only 80 and 90 are 4-syllable, others are 3 or shorter. Even less unpronounceable 'dvadesyat' and 'tridesyat' got elided to the point where they are now effectively 'dvatsat' and 'tritsat'. They probably could not do the same to 40 because 'chetiretsat' with unstressed second 'e' would have sounded almost the same as 14 'chetirnatsat'.


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Četiridvadeseticedesetdevet. Zašto se za ime sveta Francuzi svađaju sa brojevima? Čitao sam da u CH i BE broje normalno. Edit: Ah pa da, evo i na mapi.

Edited by zorglub
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